The Linificio Canapificio Nazionale complex at Cassano d’Adda is a very particular area embedded in the context of the anthropization and industrialization of the course of the river Adda, between industrial areas founded about a century ago, hydraulic works to channel the waters of the river, dams and power stations. A particular landscape rich in history and remains of hydraulic and industrial engineering and endowed at the same time with particular environmental value, increased by the abandonment of industrial activities under way for some time, which has allowed nature to gain the upper hand over the buildings. In the case of Cassano, the former industrial area is constructed on a platform nearly at the level of the canal of the linen factory, which draws its waters from the Adda, passes through the power station and the lock, and joins up again with the Adda downstream, thus drawing the boundaries of the Borromeo island.
The platform is lower than the settlement of Cassano, spread out over the terrace on the plain overlooking the valley of the Adda, but close to the historical centre, higher up but nearby, and to the heritage presented by the centre on the edge of the terrace, starting with the castle. We thus have an area of great local interest and territorial value belonging to a long series of similar towns and disused industrial systems along the river. A heritage that merits the utmost attention and the highest possible level of planning with a view not only to salvaging the buildings and associated areas but also to harnessing the environmental aspects, the relations with historical centres and in general with the settlement system of the Adda. This is, however, run by the North Adda Park, a body that has failed over the years to address redevelopment with the degree of courage required to prevent the destruction of the heritage through waste and the ravages of time with no overall breath and ì vision.
Though endowed with this courage, the project developed has repeatedly been at risk over the years of drowning in the muddy waters of public administration and being deviated from its true purpose of redeveloping a major heritage and doing justice to its twofold role at the local and territorial levels. It took off again with inclusion in the Territorial Management Plan of Cassano d’Adda and attained its definitive form and structure ready for implementation. Proximity to the historical centre and the presence of the canal are the two elements on which the project focuses in order to express its character and potential with respect to the local context, by maximizing the image of the extension of the historical centre with new constructions, and to the territorial system, by taking advantage of the canal to define all the linear elements, including the green system, cycle tracks and pedestrian connections.
The project thus takes shape, expressing the area’s vocation to accommodate a settlement in the form of a prolongation and extension of the historical centre of Cassano capable of constituting a centrality of markedly urban character and strong territorial attraction in the knowledge that urban life involves a mixture of functions and compact aggregation of volumes. Three pathways constitute the project’s backbone and the basic structure of the settlement. First, a pathway along the canal, with the reconstruction of the longer disused Corderie building to give new volume to a symbolic place for Cassano and the entire context of the Adda, capable of accommodating a cycle lane and a pedestrian pathway of sufficient weight to attract public spaces and central places beneath the rebuilt factory roof.
Second, a central pedestrian pathway of many uses and functions in the form of an urban promenade, like a riverside or waterfront, with shops, leisure facilities, cafés, restaurants, residential buildings and private service functions clustered along the main living street, the true backbone of the settlement. Third, a greenway that gives shape to the project with the design of a major backbone along the canal, which overlaps with the Corderie pathway, shapes the park, and branches out through the built-up area to expand the environmental value of green areas in the midst of constructed space. Key importance attaches to salvaging the buildings that have survived neglect and decay.
The historical nucleus of the Linificio Canapificio Nazionale, a splendid two-storey building with a steel frame and outer shell of masonry once occupied by major machinery, and some small buildings of lesser importance with the markedly industrial character of the period make up the heritage of the linen factory earmarked for conversion and together accommodate the most important public functions. New accommodation facilities for Cassano are hosted in the most historical complex, through which a central pathway is constructed to connect with the territorial pathways leading to the linen factory and the adjacent steel-frame building. Gymnasiums and wellness centres increase the public leisure facilities in the area, opening up to the green areas and the park and taking advantage of the water as an element characterizing all these functions.
A public square linking this section and the park is located in the most symbolic and central place of the entire area so as to gather its inhabitants and users precisely in the point of most importance. The architecture seeks out a particular vocabulary. Establishing dialogue at a distance with approaches focusing on the urban character of new settlements, such as New Urbanism in the USA, it modulates the volumes carefully in relation to the urban-planning scheme in the conviction that urbanity is attained through a blend of structures, public networks, spaces for relations, open spaces, constructed spaces, uses and functions.
It also designs surfaces with materials connected with the local tradition, the industrial past of the area and the contemporary requirements of energy saving and environmental performance. Larger and smaller buildings engage in dialogue with the public pathways, squares and green space, almost as though to acknowledge the greater importance of the public space and systems in a context abased for too many years by the ravages of time and a misconceived approach to management of the territory. The Linificio will take shape as a major area of transformation capable with its urban character of renewing the role of the town and increasing its overall quality.